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Boys basketball

Conant’s quest for perfection ends at Campbell

Last-second layup puts Orioles in familiar position, with the ultimate goal still well within their reach

  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. If Monday night’s game against rival Campbell sounded eerily similar to the first Campbell/Conant matchup of last season, there’s good reason. Just like last year, the Orioles brought an undefeated streak of dominance into their game with the Cougars, and just like last year, a Campbell basket with under 10 seconds remaining handed Conant their first loss of the season.

Of course, this wasn’t the same Campbell team that beat Conant last year, nor the one that would ultimately go on to lose to the Orioles in the DIII title game. Max Gouveia and the rest of last year’s seniors are gone – in fact, the Cougars don’t even have a single senior on their roster. But the system remains the same under veteran head coach John Langlois, a defensive guru who’s been a thorn in Conant’s side since his Newmarket team beat the juggernaut 1986 Orioles in the title game.

One of Conant’s biggest strengths this year has been starting games on a hot streak and putting their opponents away before they even know it. Campbell had none of that from the opening tip, outscoring the Orioles 14-7 in the first quarter.

“They came into the game motivated and ready to beat us, and we just didn’t show up,” Conant senior co-captain Rob O’Brien said after the game. “Every team is aiming to knock us off. A game like that is like a championship game to another team, and that’s how Campbell looked at it.”

Campbell maintained their early lead until midway through the third quarter, when a Nate Wheeler jump shot gave Conant a 29-28 lead. It was a back-and-forth game from that point until late in the fourth, when an offensive explosion from Eli Hodgson pushed the Oriole lead all the way to seven points with time winding down. Hodgson was held in check for most of the game, but he scored all 13 of his points in the second half despite playing with four fouls for the entire fourth quarter.

Campbell needed a run, and they got it; a basket by junior forward Zack Bergeon cut the Conant lead to 49-48. With 11 seconds remaining in the game, Hodgson was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. The characteristically clutch Conant co-captain missed the front end off the back iron, and Campbell streaked down the court for a last-second shot at the upset. The play was for Bergeon, who drove but lost the ball, which bounced to guard Andrew Smarse. Smarse fired a pass to freshman Harrison Vedrani on a backdoor cut; Vedrani went up, double-clutched to avoid the high-flying help defense of Wheeler, and laid the ball in for two as time expired to give Campbell a 50-49 victory.

After the game, head coach Eric Saucier pointed at a lapse in the usual defensive intensity that has been the hallmark of this Conant team as the defining factor in the game.

“We were not disciplined defensively and gave up 50 points, 17 in the fourth. It’s my fault as a coach,” Saucier said. “An undisciplined team is the coach’s fault, and I take responsibility. I have to make sure we are more disciplined defensively and offensively.”

The game marked the first time since the opening game of the season, a 71-63 win on the road at DII squad Bishop Brady, that the Orioles have given up 50 points in a game.

“All we can do is fix the problems that we can fix and move on,” O’Brien said, “and make sure we come into every game ready to play, no matter who it is.”

Of course, there isn’t a team better suited to rebounding from a shocking loss and continuing to pursue the ultimate goal of winning a championship.

“We have one goal,” Hodgson said. “This game helped us realize and refocus on that goal. It’s time to prepare now for battle.”

Hodgson and the Orioles will get another shot at Campbell in the second-to-last game of the season, Feb. 25 at home.

If the rest of this season is as stunningly similar to the last, the Orioles will be happy to repeat history once again – or at least, repeat.

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